AFI #10: The Wizard of Oz

“I have a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.”

I doubt there is anyone in America who has not seen The Wizard of Oz, a film that has become a part of American pop culture to the point it continues to be shown each year on television and nearly 70 years from its premiere kids still dress as Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man for Halloween. Although for my money a better costume would be a flying monkey!

wizard-of-oz-updated-6I don’t have a lot to say about The Wizard of Oz. It is a cottage industry in and of itself that has spawned sequels, prequels and reinterpretations. Frankly I like it, but I don’t get the hype around it. I’m not a big musical guy, though I don’t mind them. I certainly like fantasy films, though following yellow brick roads and killing witches with buckets of water doesn’t do much for me. Like most people, I have seen it tons of times and know it by heart. I had a favorite character as a kid (the Scarecrow) and hid under the bed when the wicked witch came on the screen. I have probably made references to munchkins or Toto or the lollypop guild over the years. I enjoyed seeing the actual ruby slippers at the Smithsonian.

I can also appreciate the filmmaking genius of the movie. It was one of the first films to be shot in Technicolor. It had a huge costume and makeup and set budget and it employed hundreds of actors (large and small). It was probably the first visually stunning film, and even the black and white parts are done in sepia tones for added effect. It has some nice songs, including the ubiquitous Oscar winner “Over the Rainbow.” And best of all, it has some great urban legends attached, like the one about the munchkin who hung himself and accidentally was left swinging from a tree in one scene in Munchkinland (not true) and the one about the fact that Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon syncs with it if you begin the record at the exact moment the MGM lion roars (also a bunch of hooey kept alive by a generation of stoned teenagers).

I’m not going to argue over its placement in the AFI top 100 nor will I argue about its placement in the top 10. I get it. It’s influential. It was a first-of-its-kind and it has staying power. I just don’t like it that much. I did when I was a kid, but as an adult it doesn’t work for me anymore. And I’m ok with that. And I’m sure plenty of you still love it to this day. More power to you. Follow that yellow brick road.

I will say the actors did a great job. Buddy Ebsen was supposed to be the tin man but he got sick and was replaced with Jack Haley. Ray Bolger was tremendous as the Scarecrow with all that flopping around. Bert Lahr will always be remembered for his cowardly lion. And the 16-year-old Judy Garland was never better frankly. She was fresh and new and lovely and could sing her ass off. But for my money Frank Morgan as the Wizard of Oz and Professor Marvel and all his other roles stole the show. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Next: Vertigo

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